News and insights • Posted on 16 February 2022

The three pillars of SEO

Out of all the various areas of digital marketing, there seems to be the most confusion and lack of general knowledge about SEO. The way in which Google Ads works is easily understood and nearly everyone has a social media profile or two, but not everyone works with SEO every day and so there is an air of ambiguity surrounding it.

Here, we help clear up the confusion by explaining the three basic principles of SEO. Because, with an understanding of these core principles, the rest of SEO is much easier to comprehend.

Influencing is a long game

One of the most important things to understand is that SEO is an influential process. There is often the assumption that it is simply a box ticking exercise – do X, then Y, and Z and you will find your website at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages). Unfortunately, it does not work like this.

In a sense, we are trying to positively affect Google’s ‘opinion’ of the site. This takes time and a good amount of trial and improvement. It also means the route to better results in the SERPs is different for each website.

One important thing to keep in mind is that Google’s algorithm is essentially trying to copy that of a person. It is in Google’s best interest to keep people using Google – this means it needs to serve the best websites possible to users. To do this, Google tries its best to judge a website in the same way a person might. Best practice always dictates that you should optimise your site for the user, and rankings should follow.

And, like a person, Google is imperfect and occasionally infuriating. And also, just like with a person, changing its mind to achieve different results is occasionally easy, but most of the time a lengthy process.

Pillar 1 – relevancy

The first pillar of SEO is probably the simplest to understand. Relevancy simply dictates that your site features the content, mainly in the form of keywords, that users are searching for. It is through crawling the HTML on your site ie the words on the page, that Google learns the subject of the page and the site as a whole. Only if this is done properly can Google match your site to the terms people are searching for.

In the early days of Google, this was very black and white and Google needed exact matches to put two and two together. However, due to the sheer amount of data that Google is fed each day, it has become increasingly better at understanding natural language and more nuanced search intent. This has influenced the content that is produced and added to any given page. Whereas previously Google could only understand multiple mentions of the exact term you want to rank for, now it understands variations and intent behind search terms and the content on the page. This has led to much more natural language being used on sites, which in turn provides a better general experience on the web.

Having said this, it is still vital to include target terms on the page, and in key areas, to have a chance of ranking for those terms.

Pillar 2 – authority

The second pillar of SEO is a more difficult concept to understand, and is also the most ambiguous to measure.

Authority is essentially how trustworthy your website is perceived to be by Google. Is it accurate in the information it provides? Is it well written and researched? Do users visit your site and find the resolution to their search query? The more perceived authority a site has, the higher it will appear in the SERPs.

There are a few ways in which authority, or trust, is measured, but one of the largest is through a website’s backlink profile. The idea behind this is simple: if another website is willing to link to yours, then by extension yours must be a good site. Each link acts as a vote of confidence. Links from some websites are worth more than others – a link from the BBC will positively affect the authority of your site more than a link from Joe Blogger down the road.

It is through crawling links, both external and internal, that Google built its index of the web, and it was by using these links as a ranking metric that it separated itself from other early search engines.

There is some debate in the SEO community as to whether on-site behavior can affect how well a site ranks. While maybe not a direct ranking factor, if a user visits your site but bounces straight off or doesn’t spend a long time on the page, it sends a very strong signal to Google that maybe your site isn’t very good for the searched term. This, in turn, may cause Google to prefer another site over yours – it will perceive your site as being less authoritative than others.

While these metrics might not be a ranking factor, they can be useful metrics to look at in order to determine whether your site is informative and engaging enough to be deemed authoritative.

Pillar 3 – technical

The technical side of SEO mainly pertains to how well Google is able to crawl your site, and the directives that are in place to help influence how Google engages with your site.

The best way to understand this is to understand how Google works.

The search engine sends out ‘bots’ that crawl websites through the links, both between websites and the internal links within a website. When these bots follow a link and hit a page, they then crawl the code that makes up that page. Using certain directives, we can influence, to varying extents, where the Google bots crawl and provide certain instructions as to what to do when they reach that page.

This is what technical SEO pertains to: ensuring that Google’s bots do what we want when they hit the site. This is where SEO gets a bit more ‘black and white’, as Google openly tells us what best practice is. The skill in this area comes from knowing how and where to apply these various best practices.

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Written by Ewan Burkinshaw

Digital marketing manager Ewan is behind all SEO strategy and works tirelessly to help clients achieve significant organic growth.

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